(CNSNews.com) – Visiting Moscow on Wednesday, National Security Advisor John Bolton lay the groundwork for a summit between Presidents Trump and Putin in the coming weeks, stressed the importance of such an encounter dispute expected criticism, and resisted journalists’ attempts to nail him down on his own previous hawkish comments about the Russian leader.
Speaking to reporters after meetings with Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and others, Bolton said the White House and Kremlin will on Thursday jointly announce the details of the summit.
Anticipating criticism about Trump’s decision to meet Putin at a time of serious unresolved disputes, Bolton pointed out that over the last year numerous European leaders had held bilateral meetings with Putin.
On reaction at home to an envisaged summit, he said that “a lot of the president’s critics have tried to make political capital out of theories and suppositions that have turned out to be completely erroneous.”
“But I think the president determined that despite the political noise in the United States, that direct communication between him and President Putin was in the interests of the United States, in the interests of Russia, in the interests of peace and security around the world,” he added.
Speaking to Bolton at the Kremlin earlier, Putin conceded that bilateral relations were “not at the best.”
“I believe that this is largely due to sharp domestic political strife in the United States, but your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can make at least the first steps towards restoring full-fledged relations between our states,” he said.
Asked by a CNN reporter why he thought it was appropriate for Trump to meet with Putin when Russia has not changed behavior that attracted U.S. sanctions, Bolton said it was important.
“There are a wide range of issues, despite the differences between us, where both President Trump and President Putin think they may be able to find constructive solutions,” he said. “I’d like to hear someone say that’s a bad idea.”
“You yourself said it was a bad idea,” the reporter said. “You said that a national security policy based on faith that regimes like Russia will honor their commitments is doomed to failure. Have you changed your mind?”
(Speaking to Fox News less than a month before taking up his post at the White House, Bolton cited Russia along with the likes of China, Iran and North Korea, and said that “a national security policy that is based on the faith that regimes like that will honor their commitments is doomed to failure.”)
Bolton pushed back on the question, as he did on an earlier one that also quoted previous comments of his, including one in which he called Russian attempts to undermine the U.S. election “a true act of war.”
“I’d spend a lot of time recapitulating my past remarks if all of the thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of words, that I’ve written and spoken over the years were read back to me,” he said.
“I always appreciate hearing them, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not my job.”
“I appreciate all this research into my prior writings,” he said in response to the earlier question. “And as I’ve said many times in Washington and I’m now happy to say for the first time in Moscow, I don’t really address what I’ve written in the past, or what I’ve said on television. It’s all out there.”
“Right now I’m an advisor to President Trump. It’s his agenda that we’re pursuing, and that’s the agenda that I intend to advance.”
Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N. and top arms control official in the Bush administration, was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor before joining the Trump administration.
Election interference, Crimea, sanctions
Bolton disclosed that there would be a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin as well as an expanded format meeting.
“I don’t think we expect necessarily specific outcomes or decisions. I think that it’s important after the length of time that’s gone by without a bilateral summit like this, to allow them to cover all the issues that they choose.”
He confirmed that he had spoken in his meetings Wednesday about “Russian interference in the elections, and I expect that will be a subject of conversation between the two presidents as well.”
In other comments, Bolton rejected the idea that the U.S. has changed tack on the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea (after a 2014 referendum not recognized by the West.)
Asked whether Trump would recognize Putin’s annexation of the strategic Ukrainian peninsula, Bolton replied, “That is not the position of the United States.”
He also said that in talks with Italian officials in Rome earlier this week, he has reiterated that the U.S. position remains that E.U. sanctions against Russia – imposed in response to the intervention in Ukraine – should “stay in place.”
And, asked by a Russian reporter when the U.S. would return “the illegally seized Russian diplomatic properties” – a reference to properties shut down by the Obama administration in late 2016 in response to alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election – Bolton said, “The premise of your question is wrong, since they weren’t illegally seized.”
Trump will be in Europe for a NATO summit on July 11-12, followed by a working visit to Britain on July 13.
Two days later, Russia hosts the final of the soccer World Cup, in Moscow. Putin has invited several leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to attend the event.
Should the summit with Trump be held outside Russia – media speculation has focused on Vienna or the Finnish capital, Helsinki – July 14 could therefore be a likely date.